How To Write A Project Proposal [Free Template]

No Comments

Photo of author

By Tyra Delos Reyes

A project proposal is a detailed document that outlines the objectives, scope, methodology, and timeline of a proposed project. 

Think of it as a formal plan you present to stakeholders, sponsors, or decision-makers to get their approval, funding, or support.

The goal of the project proposal is to: 

  • Clearly communicate the plan, objectives, and benefits of the proposed project
  • Present the expected outcomes and benefits of the project
  • Persuade the audience that the project is worthwhile and feasible

Take a look at this project proposal template from Venngage: 

Source: Venngage

Project proposals are either sent as a response to an RFP (request for proposal) or as an unsolicited proposal, which means you’re presenting solutions that you think your target reader might need. 

Because the use case is so diverse, what you focus on in your specific project proposal depends on the context: 

  • Are you sending this to an internal team? Credibility-building sections are dropped and there’s a greater emphasis on how the project contributes to OKRs from execs and team leads. 
  • Are you sending this unsolicited to a potential client? The focus is on diagnosing problems, and convincing them that addressing it is consequential. 
  • Are you sending this as a response to an RFP? Because the client is likely already problem-aware, the meat of the proposal is focused on providing tailored solutions and justifying ROI. 

Project proposal VS project brief

Project briefs are shorter and more “zoomed out” than project proposals. A project brief is a summary of what the project is about, but it’s not necessarily concerned about buy-in. 

It’s also shorter: a one-pager is more than sufficient.

Here’s an example of a project brief from Asana

Source: Asana

The goal of the project brief is to quickly communicate the details of the project. Brevity and clarity are your best friends. 

The project proposal, on the other hand, is primarily focused on getting a project approved, which means they’re a lot more detailed. 

Project proposal VS project charter

Project charters are written after the proposal has been approved. 

As the next step, it’s usually focused on assigning responsibilities among team members, as well as providing a more realistic roadmap of the project timeline

Here’s a sample project charter from Monday

Source: Monday

Writing your project proposal: a step-by-step guide 

Now that you have a better understanding of what a project proposal is (and what it isn’t), let’s go through how to build one.

Prepare the project overview aka the summary

Keep your project proposal summary between 1 to 2 paragraphs. 

In the summary, you want to answer:

  • What the project is about
  • Why it’s being done
  • How long it’s going to take

Here’s an example of a project proposal summary:

For a client project:  “We’re proposing a UI overhaul of MarketMingle’s e-commerce shop. The UI overhaul includes a significant rebrand to keep MarketMingle top-of-mind for the growing number of gen Z users. This project is expected to take 3-6 months, including both design and development.”

For an internal project: “Our goal is to launch Cyberguard, an educational initiative to train our employees around cybersecurity best practices. We recently encountered 2 social engineering attacks, which allowed hackers to gain temporary access to our user’s private information. Although no significant data were compromised, we believe ongoing training for 5 months will help prevent exorbitant regulatory fees in the future.”

Provide some context, if necessary

Before jumping into the project objectives, consider adding some context for your readers, if it makes sense. 

Proposals usually cascade through a chain of command, and including context ensures that readers understand the relevance of your proposal. Were you referred by a colleague? Is this project a response to a n earlier team initiative? 

I like to add context if:

  • The proposal is a continuation or a larger part of a series of initiatives
  • There was a specific, often urgent, request for a project as a response to a critical business issue 

The context section can be as simple as 1 to 2 sentences referring to earlier projects, and how this proposal is a response to that. 

Write SMART project objectives

In writing projectives, it’s common for first-time proposal writers to confuse actual objectives with the proposal’s desired outcome. 

The project objective reads something like: “Train select employees on new cybersecurity protocols within 60 days through a series of mock phishing attempts through email and phone.”

While the desired outcome reads something like: “Employees will be able to recognize and flag sophisticated phishing attempts.” 

Why does that matter? Remember: your goal is to get buy-in. 

Stakeholders don’t buy into the idealized state of what might happen. They’re looking to understand what the project entails in order to make a decision. Clear project objectives help stakeholders make that decision. 

Is it reasonable? Is it realistic? Is it worth the cost?

So you want to be a little smart in writing your objectives. And by SMART I mean specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. 

Here’s a sample: 

“Train select company employees on social engineering and phishing attacks within 60 days through a series of mock phishing attempts using email and phone. The training will be limited to 30 minutes a week. We’re hoping to achieve a 90% completion rate and an 80% reduction in security incidents within two weeks of training start.”

What makes this objective “SMART”?

  • Specific: It details exactly what involved parties are going to be doing 
  • Measurable: The resource cost is clear (30 minutes per week) and the ROI is also indicated (80% reduction in security incidents within 2 weeks)
  • Achievable: The objective is realistic and easy to implement.
  • Relevant: The context for the proposal is clearly outlined. 
  • Time-bound: There is a clear timeline for the project. Readers can also see when the benefits will start to materialize. 

Detail out actions to completion, as well as timeline

Depending on the type of project proposal you’re writing, the “approach” section might look a bit different.

For instance, projects that involve a clear end-product or goal will often involve a task list breaking down the specific action items and deliverables leading up to project completion.

Meanwhile, a more nuanced project, such as research projects or HR initiatives benefit more by discussing how you plan to gather data and maintain its integrity throughout the project. 

How specific should your implementation plan be? 

Researcher Eryk Głodziński, who has published articles on project management, says it’s best to strike the balance between specificity and openness. 

This means that your proposal should be specific enough that readers get a clear sense of the process, but also open enough that it can accommodate changes as the project unfolds. 

Discuss resources and budget

Finally, finalize your proposal by listing the resources that you’ll be using. 

Resources aren’t limited to the project cost. You also want to include: 

  • Human resources:  List the team members involved, their roles, and any special skills needed. Mention if you’ll need extra staff or external contractors.
  • Materials: Identify any equipment, software, or other materials required for the project.
  • Project budget: Provide a detailed budget breakdown, including costs for staff, materials, training, and any other expenses.
  • Time: Explain the time commitment expected from each team member and the overall project timeline.

And that’s pretty much it! Again, your objective in writing a project proposal should be to clearly communicate the plan, objectives, and benefits of the proposed project.

e-Signatures, pricing tables, analytics, and more 👀

Join the waitlist and get 30-day free access to Proposally when we launch. You’ll be get access to our no-code proposal editor and our library of 1,000+ quick launch templates + access to proposal analytics and eSignatures. No credit card needed.

3 best practices for writing a winning project proposal

Writing details is one thing, but there are more thoughtful choices you can make to increase its likelihood of getting approved. 

Include a cost justification

To clients and stakeholders, proposals are essentially a cost-benefit analysis. 

Tipping the scales to your favor means convincing readers that this project outweighs its costs. 

But how do you actually do that? When writing the your budget/cost section, write 2-3 paragraphs addressing the following: 

  • Upfront costs VS long-term savings
  • Efficiency savings and its impact on long-term profit 
  • Critical opportunities/problems that drive the proposal’s urgency 

You’re basically trying to encourage your readers to view the project as more than just an upfront cost: what value does it add to the organization? 

Build guardrails for scope creep

Approving a project proposal is risky for stakeholders. After all, 92% of projects fail because of scope creep according to a study on project success. 

So how do you convince stakeholders that the project won’t be a wasted effort?
Data mining and AI lead Harry Mandusha says it starts at scope documentation. 

In your Approach section, define the scope of the project as explicitly as you can:

  • What specific deliverables are going to be included in the project? 
  • What milestones or timelines are you looking to hit? 
  • What thresholds need to be defined? 

Mandusha also recommends getting buy-off on freezing the scope once it reaches a certain stage. 

If your proposal is complex, involves multiple stages or too many changing variables, get stakeholders to agree to “freeze” the project once it reaches a certain threshold so that everyone can assess and recalibrate the direction.

Underscore the “convenience” of approving the proposal

Imagine yourself in your reader’s shoes:

You’re a busy decision-maker.

Not only do you have to allocate resources for this project, you might also have to reshuffle priorities and change things around to accommodate this new project. 

Think about answering questions like: 

  • How do we make sure the project is completed on time? 
  • How do we maintain the quality / integrity of the project? 
  • How frequently are we going to communicate to ensure alignment among involved parties? 
  • What kind of involvement do stakeholders have? (I.E.: participating in interviews, providing feedback, giving access to important company docs)

Project proposals: FAQ

What are the different types of project proposals? 

Project proposals come in various types, each designed for specific purposes and audiences. Grant proposals are often submitted to government agencies, foundations, or organizations to get funding for projects. 

Business proposals are used to pitch business ideas, products, or services to potential clients, investors, or partners. They typically cover market analysis, business strategy, financial projections, and the benefits of the proposed venture, with the goal of securing investment or partnerships.

Research proposals are common in academic and scientific fields, outlining a plan for research projects. 

Other types include internal proposals, used within organizations to pitch new projects or initiatives to management, and external proposals, submitted to outside entities to win contracts or collaborations.

How long should a project proposal be?

The length of a project proposal can vary significantly based on its type and the specific requirements of the audience. 

  • Grant proposals: 10-20 pages.
  • Business proposals: 5-15 pages.
  • Research proposals: 10-20 pages.
  • Internal proposals: 2-10 pages.
  • External proposals: 5-20 pages.

What happens after submitting a project proposal? 

After you submit a project proposal, you’ll usually receive a confirmation that it was received. The proposal then goes through an initial review to ensure it meets the basic requirements. If it doesn’t, it might be rejected at this stage.

If it passes the initial review, the proposal is evaluated in detail by a panel of experts or decision-makers. They will assess its feasibility, potential impact, budget, and methodology. You might be asked for additional information or to answer questions during this phase.

Once the evaluation is complete, you’ll be notified of the outcome. If accepted, there may be negotiations to finalize terms and budgets, followed by signing a contract. Once everything is agreed upon, the project can officially start.

Want more examples of project proposals? 

Zapier has 18+ project proposal templates for different use cases, each tailored for the specific use case

Leave a Comment